It was always a mystery to me why the churches of Ireland were filled with women, and empty of men. I looked up at the crucifix and thought it was a bizarre thing for women to worship a man in a church run by men. As far as I was concerned being a Catholic was silly, and being a Jew meant so much more washing-up. What all religions do, however, is what most political systems fail to do — they prize and praise the figure of the mother.
She is the machine, the hidden power. She is the ideal, the revered one, the truly loved. Which makes up, in a way, for being skipped in shop queues and looking like a heap.
And more. On the third night of my child’s life I looked into her eyes and realised that nothing I believed could explain this. It was an embarrassing moment. I think I saw her soul. I suffered from the conviction that a part of her was ancient; and that part chose to be there with me at the beginning of something new. I had a wise child.
Carrying her out of the hospital and into the noise of the traffic; driving her home in second gear; feeding her in the middle of the night, and at the beginning of the night, and at dawn — so precious — I found myself shrinking in the face of her vast and unknowable future. How would she turn out? What would she do? When would she die? Not for many, many years, I hoped; not for the longest time. The mechanisms of fate, the grinding of her days that would lead to one end or another, became urgently opaque to me. There were a thousand things that could hurt this child, or even estrange her from me. What could I do? Nothing. My best.
These are all feelings that religion understands.
I had, I thought, become human in a different and perhaps more radical way. I had let something slip into the stream of time. What else can you do, but trust the river — put it all into the hands of a higher power?
Oh, all right.
And who else, but the suffering Christ, could know the suffering that motherhood brings?
Actually, I will resist the tug of it, if you don’t mind. Still, I will resist.
Anne Enright, ‘God’ in Making Babies: Stumbling into Motherhood, London: Vintage, 2005, 111-12.
Children are actually a form of brainwashing. They are a cult, a perfectly legal cult. Think about it. When you join a cult you are undernourished, you are denied sleep, you are forced to do repetitive and pointless tasks at random hours of the day and night, then you stare deep into your despotic leader’s eyes, repeating meaningless phrases, or mantras, like Ooh da gorgeous. Yes, you are! Cult members, like parents, are overwhelmed by spiritual feelings and often burst into tears. Cult members, like parents, spout nonsense with a happy, blank look in their eyes. They know they’re sort of mad, but they can’t help it. They call it love.
From ‘Baby-Talk’ in Anne Enright, Making Babies: Stumbling into Motherhood, London: Vintage, 2005, 138.
È sempre stato un mistero per me perché le chiese d’Irlanda fossero piene di donne e prive di uomini. Guardavo il crocifisso e pensavo fosse cosa bizzarra per una donna adorare un uomo in una chiesa gestita da uomini. Per quanto mi riguarda essere Cattolica era sciocco, essere Ebrea significava lavare molti più piatti. Quello che tutte le religioni fanno, comunque, è quello che la maggior parte dei sistemi politici non riescono a fare: premiano e lodano la figura della madre. Lei è la macchina, il potere nascosto. È la chimèra, è quella adorata, è quella realmente amata. Il che rimedia al fatto di essere superata nelle code dei negozi e di sembrare un rottame. E anche di più. Nella terza notte di vita della mia bambina, la guardavo negli occhi e mi rendevo conto che nessuna cosa in cui credevo riusciva a spiegare ciò.
Era un momento imbarazzante. Penso di aver visto la sua anima. Soffrivo per la convinzione che una parte di lei fosse anziana; e quella parte sceglieva di essere lì con me all’inizio di qualcosa di nuovo. Ho avuto una figlia saggia.
Portandola fuori dall’ospedale e nel rumore del traffico; portandola a casa guidando in seconda; allattandola nel cuore della notte, all’inizio della notte e all’alba - che cosa preziosa – mi sentivo come rimpicciolita di fronte al suo vasto e imperscrutabile futuro. Come sarebbe diventata? Cosa avrebbe fatto? Quando sarebbe morta? Speravo non prima di molti molti anni; non prima di un tempo lunghissimo. I meccanismi del fato, il logorio dei suoi giorni che, in un modo o nell’altro, l’avrebbero portata alla fine, divennero per me insistentemente confusi. C’erano migliaia di cose che potevano far male a questa bimba, o persino allontanarla da me. Che potevo fare? Niente. Il mio meglio.
Questi sono tutti sentimenti che la religione comprende.
Pensavo di essere diventata umana in un modo diverso, forse più profondo. Avevo lasciato che qualcosa scivolasse nel flusso del tempo. Cosa si può fare, se non seguire la corrente e mettere tutto nelle mani di un potere più alto?
Ma va bene così.
E chi altro, se non il Cristo sofferente, potrebbe capire la sofferenza che la maternità comporta? Di fatto, io resisterò alle sue fatiche, se non vi dispiace.
I tried to make a translation as close to the original as possible, and above all not to distort its meaning. It was interesting to see that there are often no exactly matching words between one language and another: a small variation and the tone of voice of the text can change a lot. What is fluent in one language may not be fluent in another.
In doing this translation, I noticed that the English language is much more direct, clear, concise and less repetitive than Italian: it goes straight to the point without beating around the bush.
That's why I found this translation enriching: there is more than one way of saying something and only after understanding the context, the tone of voice and the meaning the author wants to give, you can choose the words that reflect all this, or at least try to.
I tried to keep the same intensity and the same strength of the words, so I had to make some adaptations. More specifically these were the passages which made me pause and ponder:
- The translation of "prize and praise" with “elogiano e premiano” unfortunately misses the alliteration of the original language.
- The word ideal is literally “ideale” in Italian and means “is that which is limited to the world of the spirit or to the activity of thought.”, but in this case I used “chimèra” to emphasize that the mother’s figure is seen as something utopian and not really concrete. The word “chimèra” (from the Latin “chimaera” and the Greek “χίμαιρα”, precisely “goat”) refers to Greek mythology: poets said it was a creature with the head and body of a lion, a second goat's head on its back, and a snake's tail, often depicted in ancient art in the act of spewing fire; it was considered an incarnation of destructive physical forces (volcanoes or storms). In heraldry, a fantastic figure derived from Greek myth but represented with the head of a woman, the breast and hind legs of an eagle, the front legs of a lion and the tail of a snake. From this derives the Italian meaning “vain dream, strange reverie, utopia”. The meaning I wanted to give to the figure of the mother is exactly this: something important but at the same time distant and inconsistent because not considered in the right way.
- In this case I decided to make the verb “to be” explicit in the third person singular “è... è” (in English: “is... is”) to give more rhythm and fluency to the sentence which would otherwise have been convoluted in Italian.
- The word "heap" normally used as a synonym of “pile, accumulation” has been freely translated with “rottame” meaning something of little value or importance, almost a waste, to stress the feeling of exhaustion a mother feels.
- "Shrinking" has been translated with “rimpicciolita” because gives a better idea of feeling inadequate and powerless.
- Not for many, many years, I hoped; in this case I inverted the sentences putting the verb “Speravo” at the beginning of the sentence, so that the result sounded better in Italian.
- "The mechanisms of fate, the grinding of her days that would lead to one end or another, became urgently opaque to me." The sentence has been partly inverted to give more prominence to the author’s feeling of confusion.
- "I had, I thought", become: this sentence would literally translate as “Ero diventata, ho pensato” in Italian, but in this way, it has no real consecutio temporum, so it is incorrect. That is why I translated it as “I thought I had become”, which does not change the meaning of the sentence.
- The word "radical" has been translated with “profondo” (in English: “deep”) which gave a better idea of the depth of her feeling.
- "Trust the river" literally means “fidarsi del fiume”. In this case, I translated with “seguire la corrente” (in English: “go with the flow”) to stress the idea of the flow.
- "Oh, all right" is a popular way, in English, of putting a point on the matter. In Italian, however, this linguistic use is not used unless there is an objection, a “Ma” (= “but”). So, I tried to make the translation as fluent as possible: “Ma va bene così” (in English: “But that's all right in this way”). I used it to emphasize that the author does not agree, to emphasize that the condition in which she finds herself is not really fine, and she cannot do anything except entrust everything to a higher power.
- "Tug" means “tiro/ strattone” but the translation with “fatiche” (=strains) renders the idea of the effort implied in motherhood.
- "If you don’t mind" in Italian literally means “se non vi dispiace”. It is interesting to see that the author refers to the readers directly, by questioning them. At this point I wondered who the author was referring to. I think they are the same as those who are asked at the beginning of the text, that is to say, those who pass the mother, the woman in the supermarket queue. But I think that the author is also referring to all the mothers and women who are reading her: she will resist these efforts, so she is an example for all those who are in the same situation as her, the author puts herself forward as a hope for change, she will resist.